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Why do pieces move the way they do? Was there any reason behind the decision in the early history of chess?

This Quora post for example mentions (no citations):

Queen can give directions. And she can do, what a King cannot. This is represented by her unlimited range in any direction.

However, in an old form of chess, Shatranj, the queen (fers) could only move one square diagonally, therefore the answer is not accurate.

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    There is a speculation the eldest movements are fitting together mathematically: each piece moved as an (a,b)-knight, where 22=alfil(pre-bishop), 21=knight, 20=dabbaba(pre-rook),11=fers(pre-queen),10=wesir(pre-king). Get me a time machine and I convert to answer :-) Dec 22, 2021 at 16:05
  • The movements of pieces are based on Levels.. Like Pawns can move 0 steps as they are 0 Level.. Bishop (Elephant Unit) and Knight are 1st Level and1.5 levels. Rook or Chariot Unit has 2 Level. Army General (Fictional Queen) is at 2.5 level..
    – ShadYantra
    Jan 6 at 17:11

3 Answers 3

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  • The king shouldn't rush into battles, but instead, he should go very slowly to beat his enemies.
  • The queen (fers) should guard the king and stay in his side. [1]
  • The bishop (fils) are the elephants the king used to bring. They were moved diagonally to wound the ranks of their enemies. Because no one dared to face them, the fils could leap over intermediate pieces. [2]
  • Good captains lead the ranks by turning horses to the right and left to guard their men and conquer the enemies.
  • The rooks (the ranks of the soldiers) go in whichever direction they like and as far as they think is best to conquer their enemies.
  • The pawns (the army soldiers) can't move too far because they carry their weapons. Some, however, can until they capture because afterward, they cannot do it. And this is like when ordinary people steal some things, that they carry them on their backs.
    The soldiers cannot wound an enemy in front of them, so instead, they wound (capture) the ones located diagonally that least expect it.

[1] See Wikipedia on the original movement of the queen.
[2] See Wikipedia on the original movement of the bishop.

Source: this translated version of Libro de los Juegos ("Book of Games"), pages 8-9.

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    Aside from your remark that the king should be a slow mover, I don't see how this answers the question.
    – Rosie F
    Dec 30, 2021 at 12:12
  • Wikipedia are not correct sources.. All movements are based on fictional game called Chaturanga which was played by Arabs
    – ShadYantra
    Jan 6 at 17:06
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    This answer is well written but it is a little far fetched. These are likely part of the reasons behind the names and shapes of the pieces, but not their moves. Jun 21 at 13:23
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    @shad- small grammar correction. You would say Wikipedia IS not Wikipedia ARE because Wikipedia is one thing.
    – Savage47
    Jun 21 at 22:56
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    I’ve certainly encountered the foot-soldiers-stab-diagonally argument, with no reference to chess. Need to clarify that such foot soldiers are probably carrying spears. But the inspiration for chess pawns seems very credible
    – Laska
    Jun 24 at 5:44
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Initially, the Shad Yantra game was invented 8000+ years, and was played in Dashpaad or Dashpad.

Dashpaad (10x10) is the board which means 10x10 squares.

Shad Yantra is the name of the game which means 6 Principles or Devices in War. These principles were later cursed as Conspiracy Theory in Indian Sub-Continent.

After the Dashpaad board, the Ashtpaad (8x8) board was evolved with off-track moves and rules. These rules later took the name of new games like Chaturanga and then Modern Chess etc.

In Shad Yantra, Rules were purely based on Categories. These Categories are:

Army: Commandar General or Queen, Officers and Resources.
Immortal: Guru or Peace Ambassador.
Royals: Raaja means King and Deputy of King called Mantri.
Impersonator: Spies, Chaarak or Guptchar.
  1. Army: Within Army, there are 3 level of Officers.

1.a Pawns as common people and not regular soldiers.

Pawns are non autonomous and immovable resource. They are also on 0 level, hence pawns cannot move on their own. They can move only as per the neighboring Senior Rank Officer.

All Officers and Royals are autonomous units. Hence they can move 1 step only. Hence, when Officers are in touch with Army General, or Royal King or Royal Mantri (Deputy of King), or Naarad (Even opponent Naarad), or Impersonator Spy - these officers can move additional steps as per their level. This is called elevated move.

1.b.1 Bishop or Elephant Unit are on 1st level. So bishop gets 1 extra step (2 in total) in any direction when Elevated.

(There was no decimal system during Ramayan period, so we will be using intermediate ranking as .5 which means jumping)

1.b.2 Knight is on Level 1 and intermediate (lets assume 0.5 level). So Knight gets 1 extra step (2 in total when elevated). Intermediate means he can jump as horse (Famous L, I, V shapes). Here Knight cannot jump over opponent.

1.c.1 Rook is on 2.00 level. So elevated Rook gets extra 2 steps (3 in total).

1.c.2 Army General ( which we incorrectly call as Queen) is on 2nd and Intermediate level (lets assume 0.5 level). Elevated Army General gets extra 2 steps (3 steps in total). Intermediate means he can jump as horse (Famous L ,I , V shapes). Here, General cannot jump over opponent.

  1. Immortal: Naarad or Guru or Peace-Maker is on 3rd level. Naarad is always elevated and does not require any assistance. They can move upto 4 steps in total and no help is required.

  2. Royals: Within Royals, there is 1 level of Royal.

3.a.1 Mantri is on same 3rd level like Naarad but more powerful. Elevated Mantri can move 4 steps in total when helped. Otherwise without help, can move 1 step only.

3.a.2 King is on 3rd and intermediate (lets assume 0.5) level. Elevated King can move 4 steps in total when helped. Otherwise without help, can move 1 step only. However, King can also jump like horse because it has intermediate Rank.

King is the most powerful of all pieces, but in modern chess King moves 1 step only.

** Impersonators or Spies can move like any piece**

4.a Default moves of all Spies is 1. When they get elevated or helped, they can move like any piece on board. They can even jump over any piece, like horse. When helped or elevated, they can move secretly, even without breaking borders.

Sources: Agasthya smriti (obsolete) and samhita, Kautilya Arthshastra

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  • Vrihadpaad was popular in Ramayan Period. Vrihadpaad means NxN if we go by its meaning. Then Dashpaad (10×10) board became popular during Ravaan period, even though the game was atill the same "Shadyantra". During Ashoka period Dashpaad board was replaced by Ashtpaad (8×8) and Shadyantra was sidelined or banned.
    – ShadYantra
    Jun 22 at 2:36
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If there are no convincing sources, we could set out ourselves, looking for an irrevocable- be it a mathematical or poetic- logic in the ensemble of a game's pieces. We could try to find it in chess, xianxi, shogi, tschaturanga, grant axedrez, or any known fixed set of move rules in the family of games chess belongs to.

The question then could be answered focussing on geometrical qualities making up a geometric whole and/or by looking at the relation of the geometrical qualities of the pieces to the nomenclatura, the names, the meaning of the pieces.

And this question here should gather such efforts, historical as well as new ones.

I just want to stress that such a complex game is originating most probably in steps, and we would have to go back to the earliest predecessors- which we can't be sure of- see why they had some pieces move some way and then see how these got either transformed in the way they move or in the way they are named or in the way they are placed among other pieces or on different boards to get an idea of the whys.

Gerhard Josten, in his grand piece 'chess- a living fossil' from 2001, suggests that the game has come together from the 12x3 circular Babylonian astrolabe, a divination device where the known stars moved on in different manners, from Indian race games played on the 8x8 ashtapada board, and from Chinese games focussing on a central piece to be guarded. These ingredients, is Josten's suggestion, where matched in the bloom of the Kushan empire, sometime between 50 BC and 200 AD, by a trading culture of great tolerance and practical syncretism.

link: http://history.chess.free.fr/papers/Josten%202001.pdf

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